It’s Monday morning and you have a busy week of work ahead of you. Getting back on track after the weekend is always hard and when it’s early in the morning coffee feels like the best way to wake you up, clear your mind and get you caffeinated and energized for the day When energy levels are low and you need a boost after a heavy lunch or you have in hand a difficult task that requires concentration, you may resort to a cup of coffee to keep you going. In fact, you might be having your second (or third?!) cup of coffee while reading these lines…
If any of the situations described before applies to you, you might be interested in knowing when are the best times to have coffee, according to science. Taking into account the circadian cycles of our body, there are times in the day when the effects of caffeine are optimal, which means that we are going to get the best results from caffeine consumption. But what is a circadian cycle?
We are all guided by a 24-hour hormonal cycle called the circadian cycle, which is programmed into us genetically and regulates hormonal levels and,more specifically, things such as energy levels, hunger and other bodily functions. It is majorly regulated by sunlight, but modern life and our daily habits mess with it a lot (yeah, it’s not natural to go to work when it’s still dark outside, we haven’t evolved enough!).
One of the things that can alter our internal clock is substances such as caffeine. When our cortisol levels are low (the hormone that regulates our clock and therefore the feeling of alertness), caffeine can help, making us feel invigorated and alert again. However, and like any other drug, if we use it at a time when our cortisol levels are naturally high, it will not only have no effect on us at all but it will also cause us to develop a tolerance to it, making us need bigger caffeine fixes in the future.
So what’s the best time to have coffee according to science? Our cortisol level are at their peak when we wake up in the morning, and stay high for up to an hour after that, so that on average, between 8-9 am, we are out our best in terms of alertness and energy (provided we’ve had enough sleep, of course). This means that having a coffee for breakfast is not the best idea, as we are naturally high on cortisol and caffeine won’t do anything for us. However, cortisol levels decrease after that period, so that we need something to pick us up and keep us going until lunch, which makes 9:30-11:30 (and, on average, 10:30 am) the best time to have a cup of coffee. Coffee at this time will make up for the cortisol low in our blood, and probably some elevenses will also help us keep our sugar levels just right to keep working. According to these studies, blood levels peak again at approximately 1, 5:30 and 6:30 pm, so coffee is not recommended at those times either.
Of course these times are only orientative and based on the average worker’s timetable, but it gives you an idea of how our internal circadian clock works, so that we can figure out how to optimize our caffeine fix throughout the day based on the time we get up at in the morning and our daily routine.
- Get back on track (vp): running according to schedule again.
- Boost (v, n): to increase, rise or, as a noun, an increase or rise.
- Keep (you) going (vp):to sustain someone or something.
- Fix (n): a slang word for an injection or dose of a drug or just something addictive that you really need (coffee, chocolate or your favourite soap opera!)
- Pick up (v): something that that makes you feel happier and gives you more energy
- Elevenses (n): (used as a singular noun). A light snack, usually with tea or coffee, taken mid-morning